Ask the Expert : Raising a Child to learn Different Languages

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Pregnancy & Parenting

Ask the Expert : Raising a Child to learn Different Languages

Q: How can I best prepare my child to know different languages?  

There are many differing viewpoints on language acquisition.  Most experts agree that for a young child to learn and sustain a language, the child needs regular contact with a speaker of the language.  Many support the idea of structuring the exposure to languages through association to a person.  Some examples would be:

Mom speaks her first language with the child (ren).

Dad speaks his first language with the child (ren).

When the family is together, they use mom’s.

Children use (and/or learn) English and/or another language in school.

Mom speaks her first language with the child (ren).

Nanny speaks her first language with the child (ren).

When the family is together, they use a designated family language.

Children learn English and/or another language in school.

Mom and Dad speak their first language with the child (ren)

Grandparents speak their first language with the child during summers and by phone/video.

When the family is together, they use a third common language.

Children learn English and/or another language in school.

Language introducers may choose to speak to a child in a language and allow the child to respond in the language that he or she can use most easily.

family-at-home

Here are some things to keep in mind as you make decisions regarding your child’s learning.

There are many variations based on number of languages the child will be exposed to, how much contact the child has with each speaker, the level of language level desired (ranging from exposure to college preparedness), and overlap between languages spoken in different settings.  Will an older sibling be introducing a language of school?  This can complicate the structure of a plan developed by a family.  What is the child’s temperament?  Will he or she be able to sort languages with ease?  Will he or she need prior exposure to the language of school in order to feel comfortable trying new things?  Will he or she be exposed to or learning in more than one language at school?

A child will learn best from a person who is a native speaker of that language.

Some children acquire first languages with more ease than others do.  If your child experiences continued frustration in learning to communicate one of these ideas may be considered:

  • Adjust the plan to provide more exposure and learning support
  • Reduce the number of languages introduced for a period of time
  • Introduce new languages sequentially rather than simultaneously

Individuals acquire and demonstrate competencies with languages in different ways.  It is common for a child who has input from two or more languages to produce speech later in their twos or threes than children hearing only monolingual input.

TV, or other recorded language will not have the same effect as an interactive human will on a child’s language development.

mum-son-and-father

Technologies can offer a wealth of ways to provide language activity support, as well as ways to stay connected to family members or others who may be introducing a language.

Related: Raising Children in a World of Technology

Pregnancy & Parenting

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